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pronounced: loo-DIZ-ee-uh diss-KULL-uh variety door-son-ee-AH-nuh
(Orchidaceae – the orchid family)
synonyms: Haemaria discolor (Ker Gawl.) Lindl. 1840, Goodyera discolor Ker Gawl. 1818
pronounced: hee-MAR-ee-uh diss-KULL-uh, GOOD-yer-uh diss-KULL-uh
common name: Jewel Orchid
Ludisia is ‘of unknown origin’; in the synonyms, Haemaria is from the Greek 'αιμα (hæma), blood, referring to the colour of the leaves; Goodyera is named for John Goodyer (1592–1664), English botanist. In his lifetime Goodyer had the reputation of being “the ablest Herbalist now living in England”; there is still a genus of orchids bearing his name, but this one is now reckoned not to belong to it. He is credited with clarifying the identities of the British elms†, and is also reckoned to have introduced the Jerusalem Artichoke to English cuisine; but perhaps his most enduring legacy was his revision, with Thomas Johnson, of Gerard’s Herbal, the greatest herbal of its time. So high was his reputation that, in 1643 during the English Civil War, Ralph Hopton, one of the senior Royalist generals, ordered his troops “to defend and protect John Goodyer, his house, family, servants and estates”. Discolor is Latin for ‘of another colour, of varied colours’.
This orchid has had an exciting history. It was first described in the Botanical Register in 1818 by John Ker-Gawler as Goodyera discolor. A. Richard re-classified it in 1825, in the Dictionnaire Classique d’Histoire, as Ludisia discolor. In 1840 John Lindley, in his Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants, placed it in the genus Haemaria. Then in 1970 P.F. Hunt discussed the species in the Kew Bulletin and declared that its correct name was indeed Ludisia discolor. I do hope it has now finished its inter-genus travelling: the poor plant is probably suffering from an identity crisis!
I often hear gardeners complaining about how ugly many orchid plants are when they are not in flower. This accusation cannot be made against this plant, as its foliage is so lovely – indeed, many gardeners grow it for the foliage rather than for the flowers.
Ludisia discolor is native to parts of China, and to Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Sumatra and Malaysia. It is a semi-terrestrial or lithophytic species of the shady forest, usually found growing in the leaf litter of large tropical trees. The leaves of all the varieties are full and dense, growing in a whorl pattern similar to that of Coleus. They are velvety, delicately decorated with white, or red and gold veins; they may be burgundy, maroon or a lush wintergreen in colour. The actual colour of the leaves of a particular plant largely depends on the amount of light it receives. In very little light, the dark blood-red colour will be preserved; too much light, and the leaves will bleach out to a pale colour. They seem to do best in 85 to 90% shade. The flowers are small, white with some yellow, and red bracts, fragrant, and grow in clusters on upright stalks.
The plants should be grown in a well-drained medium that will stay damp but not wet. In winter, the plants can be deciduous and may be dried out, with just sufficient water to stop them from shrivelling. When new growth appears, they may be re-potted.
If the plants are grown indoors, remember that they like high humidity, and air-conditioning will quickly dry them out. Extra watering is needed in such conditions, but this may produce fungal problems unless the plants are well-ventilated.
† most of which are now, alas, lost due to the ravages of Durch Elm Disease
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2011 and Picnic Bay 2015
Page last updated 24th December 2016